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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Through Deaf Eyes: A Photographic History of an American Community

Douglas Baynton, Jack R. Gannon,
and Jean Lindquist Bergey

Introduction

 

DEAF PEOPLE AND VISUAL COMMUNICATION
Human beings are social animals who communicate with each other almost constantly through sounds and movements. From the moment we are born, we are engaged in the learning and use of one or more complex languages. This imperative to employ language is deeply embedded in our genetic heritage. If two infants are placed together in isolation, they will begin to create their own language. So fundamental is the need to maintain communication with others that one of the most severe punishments we can inflict is solitary confinement.

Language is most often conveyed via speech and hearing, but we can just as readily use gesture and sight. Native Americans, for example, created relatively complex gesture languages for intertribal communication as well as for ritual use. Australian aborigines developed sign languages for use when speech was ritually taboo, such as during mourning periods for women or initiation ceremonies for men. Some linguists theorize that humans communicated via gesture for thousands of years before they developed speech.

In this 1907 school photograph, students and their teacher pose for the camera.
All but two of the boys (first row, right) are able to be still for the seconds the
shutter is snapped. Their signing to each other is captured and produces a
double image. (Gallaudet University Archives, #13747-18, Washington, DC;
from the Alice Teegarden Album.)


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